My lover says he can’t leave his wife for me. Is he being dishonest? | Ask Annalisa Barbieri

He won’t be in a rush to do anything as he has the stability of his ‘boring’ home life and the exciting mistress

I’ve been having an affair for three months with my co-worker, who is married with a two-year-old. I never thought it would get this far but we have been seeing each other a lot and have developed feelings for each other. When it began, I was conscious that men never leave the wife for the mistress, but as we continued I’ve really started seeing how strongly he feels for me and I for him.

He says he’s always thinking about me, misses me, cannot enjoy his time at home any longer, and just longs to be with me. We finally had the talk a few days ago, and he said he cannot leave his wife right now as we’ve been seeing each other for too short a time (they’ve been together for 11 years). He says he is bored with her and wants to be with me, but he can’t leave his daughter. (I have made it clear I would never ask him to give her up.)

I know this is the stuff that married men always tell people they have affairs with, but he seems truly honest, though he refuses to go to therapy as he is too scared; and I will finish working at the same firm in a couple of months. I haven’t felt this strongly about anybody in a long time, but the fact that he thinks three months is too short a time to make a decision, and he’d rather stay in an unhappy marriage rather than face reality, makes me think he is not being honest with me.

I actually think him saying he hasn’t known you for long enough, although rather skewed logic, is the honest bit. I think the rest of it shows some delusion on his part and yours. While of course there are exceptions, experience has taught me to pay heed to how people go into relationships – for it’s often how they exit them too (in this case, starting another affair).

I went to psychotherapist Fe Robinson (, who said: “Initially, you knew it was a fling and I’m really curious: at that stage, what did you want from it? Was it just a bit of fun? You were attracted to this man who you knew wasn’t available, which makes me wonder about your emotional availability, because it doesn’t sound as if he concealed his unavailability.”

The reason this is important is that often, but not always, people go for unavailable people – however subconsciously – if they want to keep a relationship on a “fantasy” level. It doesn’t seem as if your time together has been about real, ordinary, boring life. No wonder your relationship compares so unfavourably with that with his wife. As Robinson pointed out: “This isn’t going to suddenly become simpler if he leaves his wife, but very much more complicated. You’d potentially be managing an aggrieved ex-wife and you’d be stepmother to his young child.”

Robinson further noted: “Even if he were available, three months is a really short time to make a decision about a life partner. We don’t really know someone yet; we’re still at that heady hormonal rush stage. Especially if it’s an affair, because you will have had less time together.”

But there’s another thing to think about here, beyond the dishonesty to his wife and, very probably, to you too. “Do you want,” asked Robinson, “to be with someone whose style of dealing with problems is to have an affair instead of working it through? You say he won’t face reality, but whose reality?”

It’s possible for people to have very strong feelings for more than one person, and in Robinson’s experience, added: “People have affairs for lots of reasons; it doesn’t always mean they want to leave their main relationship.”

You didn’t tell me your age. I’ve seen many people waste time waiting for their married “partner” to make up their minds, with the other person putting what they want on the back burner. What do you want? Was an unavailable, dishonest man on your wish list? I’m sorry to sound harsh, but it’s because I think you deserve someone more available to you.

I understand about finding yourself somewhere you didn’t plan to be, but you’re here and you’ve written to me. He won’t be in a rush to do anything as he has the stability of his “boring” home life and the exciting mistress. I would get some distance if I were you and remember this one truth: if a man really wants to be with you, he will be.

• Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa on a personal matter, please send your problem to Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

• Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure the discussion remains on the topics raised by the article. Please be aware that there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.

• Listen to Conversations With Annalisa Barbieri, series 2, is available here.


Annalisa Barbieri

The GuardianTramp

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